Achint joined Cityflo as a backend engineer. In this post he shares his experience of the first 30 days at Cityflo.
We, at Cityflo..
Traffic remains one of the most common issues in the metropolitan cities of India. Such a high rate of urbanisation was never a factor being considered when cities were being built. To run such a high pace city like Mumbai, transportation is one of the biggest concerns right now.
Cityflo is solving the problem of daily home to office commute that affects working professionals in big Indian cities every day. Commuters on Cityflo reclaim 2 to 3 hours of their time every day with reserved seats in air conditioned Benz buses at less than 1/3rd the price of a cab. That’s comfort and quality time on the go, with immense cost-saving benefits and the satisfaction of having done your bit for the environment.
What makes Cityflo stand apart is the customer-centric culture that the company has built, which lays the foundation for the product.
I realised this during my onsite interview round, when I saw Ankit, CTO at Cityflo, interacting with customers himself. Customer reviews are probably one of the most essential indicators that a company might use to evaluate itself. But, the idea of one to one interactions with the customers is something that not only helps us understand the emotion of the user first hand (which we cannot possibly do while considering app reviews or on-call feedback) but also makes them feel a lot closer to the company.
The idea of product development keeping customers in mind and getting them more involved can make the development more impactful, and we also learn a lot more about our users’ psychology. This is probably the idea that big brands like Starbucks and Apple followed while building the products they sell.
City of Dreams and House Hunting
I landed in Mumbai, on 2nd November, two days before the joining date. Mumbai had mesmerised me with its energy and enthusiasm since my high school when I first visited the city and now here I was. I was staying in an Airbnb near a lake and some hills, in Thane, for the initial week, which was away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The temperature was generally lower than that of the main city. Being from northern India, it reminded me of the pleasant weather during the Autumn and Spring seasons.
Anyone new to Mumbai would know the struggle of hunting for an apartment. But mine was not bad at all thanks to Sanit, our head of HR and my team members. With their help, I landed up in a well-developed, high tech society, Lodha Amara.
Lenses apart from Engineering — The onboarding process
The first week was much more happening than I expected and an important one. I had one to one interactions with teams from other departments of the company and quickly understood how things apart from engineering work, and how they all fit together.
While working on software development, there’s little chance you would learn how marketing, operations, customer support, growth, and design work. For the first time, I realised that the same focus and energy we invest in engineering, also goes into other functions of the company. It was like how you’ve heard about aliens as a concept but this was the first time you saw them, interacted with them and you realised that they are just like you.
As a part of the onboarding process, I had to interact with the customers, take a ride, feel like a customer and share my experience with teams. I had never done anything like this before, so this experience of customer interaction was new and fresh to me. That day I understood some of the problems faced by customers, what they liked, disliked, their emotions toward the product. Most importantly I learned that Cityflo has become part of the customer’s life and in many ways, we are in the driver’s seat.
Within a week, I had ice-breaker rounds with customers, with almost every team in Cityflo, and learned about the various lenses through which I could look at the company. I learned about the roles everyone plays and how the distributed responsibilities can help focus on pillars of the product in a full-fledged way.
Geek’s world — The Engineering Team
During the first week, while working on an existing bug in the codebase, I was trying to figure out the most efficient solution for the problem and I came up with an over-engineered, complex solution. Not too late, I went through this wiki about the Cityflo Development Philosophy which says:
Fight complexity with all your might. Always challenge yourself and others — Is this the simplest solution we can come up with? — Cityflo Development Philosophy
Well! We have a company that took Zen of Python seriously. Soon I realised that coming up with simpler solutions has way more leverage than one with a complex one. Simpler solutions means code that’s easily understandable, more readable, scalable, involves lesser development cost, and encourages more focus on the crux of the problem. Thinking of a simpler solution doesn’t work for all the problems of course. However for our use case and most cases in general, taking this approach can help us come up with smart and effective solutions.
One perk of working in a startup is that you can experiment with things, continuously break it, build it up again. Just like coming up with the idea of the light bulb was never a one-shot idea but a series of experiments, Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment is something that promotes the idea of experiments in the team. It is what I enjoy the most at Cityflo and it helps me drive innovation. Breaking things might be a nightmare for some developers, but without breaking things, you can’t build it up stronger. CI/CD ensures that I am always moving forward and quickly.
Rush Hour — v2 Revamp
I think I joined Cityflo at one of the critical times when the engineering team was involved to revamp the application and the backend to a newer version, and internal dashboards for the Customer care team. The reasons for revamping are many, some of them were to make the user experience smoother, the system more scalable and extensible to newer features and system improvements..
The deadline was not too far, we were a little late, bandwidth was crunched, one of the developers was moving out early, some very critical decisions to make on the application part, anxiety was at peak, developers had turned on their hackathon mode, time for caffeine to show its grace, onboarding our first product manager Anirudh who had just joined and a lot of things had happened in this month. We had (and still have) a lot of things in the queue so before starting to work on those it was important to complete the revamp for new application v2 in 2 weeks. I worked on revamping the bus tracking module and making the experience for the users much smoother and better.
It was like the last 100m sprint that a runner might make to win the 400m race. Just like that, the tech team was at pace, all the developers worked in sync and priorities were clear, the net of intra-team dependencies was resolute and everyone was ready for the challenge. As a result, we were able to complete the revamp within the time frame and make our first beta release for version v2. Response for the beta release was overwhelming and UI looked more appealing, user experience for the major functionalities worked smoother than before and the application barely crashed. One lesson that I have learned during this period at Cityflo is that when you care less about failure, chances are that you would rarely fail and this is the learning and value that the engineering team takes forward.
ORAM - One Ride a Month
ORAM is a ritual everyone in the Cityflo team has to take in order to experience Cityflo like a customer, talk to other customers to understand their experience and feedback. Also, you are paired with a Cityflo team member from another team to increase cross team interaction and bonding. Customers on the bus gave feedback across the bus timings, bus ambience, app etc. The trust that we felt from the users was very motivating. We also interacted with our Cityflo driver Nidan which was an eye opener for me. He shared how he greets the users, keeps the bus clean and his daily routine. I realized drivers are such an integral part of Cityflo experience and that we should never underestimate what they bring to the table.
This was also one of my first crazy visits to the city with my ORAM partner Lona from Marketing team, a Mumbaikar herself. I learned about some of the lesser known stories of Mumbai and the must try pizza at Joey’s Pizza, Andheri.
Few more words...
My first month at Cityflo has been much happening and a very warming journey. I hope the coming months get more exciting. Tadaa! :)